Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Syria: High Cost of Maintaining the Christian Presence

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 529 | 20 Nov 2019
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by Elizabeth Kendal

TURKISH AGGRESSION: On 9 October Turkey launched its 'Operation Peace Spring'. As Turkey rained terror from the air, shelling Syrian border towns from Kobani to Qamishli, its jihadist proxies committed atrocities on the ground [RLPB 524 (16 Oct)]. Despite extreme risk, many of the region's Christians have chosen not to flee, but to remain precisely so they might 'maintain the presence of Jesus' [RLPB 525 (22 Oct)]. In clear violation of its deal with Russia [see RLPB 526 (30 Oct)], Turkey and its jihadist proxies continue to press towards the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer.

click on map to enlarge

Straddling the M4 Highway, Tel Tamer is one of 35 Assyrian Christian villages along a 40km stretch of the Khabour River established in the wake of the Armenian Genocide (1915). Islamic State (IS) attacked the community in February 2015, shooting residents and burning churches, displacing some 3000 Assyrians [RLPB 298 (25 Feb 2015)] while taking 253 captive. A little over seven months later, ISIS released a video showing six of the men (five from Tel Tamer). All were dressed in orange jumpsuits and introduced as 'Nasrani Asuri', i.e., Christian Assyrian. Three were then summarily executed, leaving the other three to renew the ransom demand [RLPB 331 (14 Oct 2015)]. Only after the Caliphate was dismantled did an Assyrian remnant trickle nervously back to the Khabour River, where they are protected by an Assyrian militia known as the Syriac Military Council. On the outskirts of Tel Tamer, Turkey and Syria are engaged in a fierce conflict for the future of this front-line town. By 14 November Tel Tamer hospital had received 644 wounded and 170 dead -- mostly civilians (including children), many with chemical burns. The Assyrian remnant on the Khabour River fears what might happen should Turkey break through the Syrian defences. Please pray.

ISLAMIC STATE TERROR: In August 2018 the Pentagon estimated that IS retained some 30,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria and was establishing support zones and preparing for a future insurgency. Exploiting the insecurity, IS has begun to re-assert itself. On the afternoon of Monday 11 November at least two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devises were detonated in the city of Qamishli. A car bomb exploded outside a hotel where World News Group journalist Mindy Belz, author of 'They Say We Are Infidels', was seated in the lobby; she was not harmed. Moments later, a motorcycle bomb detonated outside the Chaldean Catholic Church, one of eleven churches in the city. The bombs killed at least six civilians and wounded more than twenty. Nobody has claimed responsibility.

Martyr: Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43)
Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43) oversees Qamishli's Armenian Catholic parish of Saint Joseph. He was not in the city at the time as he was driving to Deir ez-Zor (260km south of Qamishli) where he was supervising reconstruction work on the Church of the Martyrs, a church built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide but destroyed by IS in 2014. Travelling with Rev Hovsep Bedoyan were his father Abraham Bedoyan, church deacon Fadi Sano from Hasakah and a church layman. The vehicle was ambushed by armed militants on the outskirts of Deir ez-Zor. Abraham Bedoyan was killed instantly and Rev Hovsep succumbed to his wounds shortly after. Deacon Fadi Sano was wounded and rescued alive, while the layman survived uninjured. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility. Rev Hovsep Bedoyan was wearing his priestly attire and the car was clearly marked 'Armenian Catholic Church'. There is little doubt the priest was targeted for his efforts to re-establish the Christian presence in Deir ez-Zor. 'I beg you to pray for us and for our people,' pleads Rev Boutros Marayati, the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, 'because at present we are living through extremely difficult times.'

Lingering ominously, like the darkest of storm clouds, is the fact that the system currently keeping tens of thousands of individuals associated with IS detained in north-eastern Syria is at breaking point. The detainees include some 13,500 foreign women and children in three makeshift camps and around 2,000 male foreign fighters who are held in a separate prison network. Some 1,450 of these male fighters hold Western passports. It is absolutely urgent that an international solution be found and enacted before the system breaks down completely.


* intervene to protect, preserve, rescue and sustain his precious Church in north-east Syria; may all who seek her demise be frustrated; and may all who seek to help her know the strength and blessing of her God.

* bless every Christian, every church and every aid group that has chosen to remain in Syria's north-eastern war zone precisely so they might minister to and serve the harassed and helpless; may the Lord comfort them in their distress and supply their every need; may our Lord the Redeemer build his Church.

'Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done ...' (Psalm 105:4,5a ESV)

* move in power to end Turkish aggression and prevent an Islamic State resurgence; may the Lord defuse the potentially explosive threat posed by tens of thousands of Islamic State-associated detainees -- fighters and their families, locals and foreigners. The system is at breaking point; Lord have mercy!

'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20,21 ESV)


Contrary to its deal with Russia, Turkey and its jihadist proxies continue to press towards the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer. Exploiting insecurity, Islamic State is re-asserting itself. On 11 November at least two bombs were detonated in Qamishli; one outside a church. At least six civilians were killed and more than 20 wounded. Rev Hovsep Bedoyan (43), an Armenian Catholic priest in Qamishli, was driving his father and two church members to Deir ez-Zor where he was overseeing the reconstruction of a church built by survivors of the Armenian Genocide but destroyed by IS in 2014. Hovsep and his father were killed when their vehicle was ambushed by armed militants. Nobody doubts Rev Hovsep Bedoyan was assassinated for his efforts to re-establish the Christian presence in Deir ez-Zor. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com